Picture Imperfect. What to do when dinner goes wrong.

I had a plan. A glimmer of a plan. OK I had ingredients.

Last night was supposed to be our fancy meal of the week. We’d hit the farmer’s market on Sunday and got all kinds of great things. Among those items were a couple Branzinos.

Branzinos, if you don’t know, are code for restaurant quality fish, that deserves to be treated with respect. It is rather expensive, and it has a really delicious, buttery flavor. It really should be cooked simply, with minimal accompaniments. We splurged.

And I, in my hubris, thought, “I know how to cook fish to perfection. I will be named Champion of Branzino and all bass will bow as I parade by.”

Here was the plan: Crispy-skin branzino, with lemon garlic compound butter, honey carrot salad with cilantro, and fresh sourdough garlic bread.

Only one of those items made it onto the plate exactly as described, and even that was a challenge.

We’ll start there. The compound butter. Its easy: lemon juice, fresh grated garlic, salt, butter. But my butter was cold, my lemon juice was frozen, and all of my garlic started sprouting. Sooooooooo. I melted the lemon juice and hoped the residual heat would soften the butter and grated some green garlic. Also I added some African Smoke seasoning blend.

Here is the progression:

Step 1 melt frozen lemon cube. Step 2 add butter, garlic and seasonings. Step 3 mash it up. Step 4 spill a bunch so move to larger bowl. Step 5 stir more frantically as you notice the lemon will not incorporate. Let existential dread set in. Step 6 finally pour off any leftover lemon juice and put whats left onto parchment. Step 7 roll it up and stick it in the fridge.

It was while I made the butter that I felt things start to slide. I somehow knew from that moment that this was not going to be the dinner I had planned.

Nonetheless, I pushed on to the salad. Except when I looked into the veggie drawer, I suddenly realized that the green beans I had been avoiding were nearing their last days. Not wanting to waste, I gathered them up. They were dressed lightly in oil and salt and put into the oven at 400F for 30 minutes. They came out a bit wrinkled and charred. Sigh. I tossed them in a few tablespoons of saucy minx.

Now it was time for the Branzino. These bad boys had been sitting on the counter staring at me like Bran Stark waiting for an old friend.

Branzino, old buddy.

I’d patted them down and seasoned them with salt and pepper when I realized, the bread I’d planned to serve had been consumed the day before.

Since my five-year old has issues with green beans, and although he likes fish, isn’t really eating meat these days, I knew I had to put something on the plate that would make him happy. (My 1 yr old is an eating machine and still in the stages of “I want to eat what you eat” —she will happily mow down some string beans and fancy fish.)

So I put off the fish again to make some quick biscuits. (My biscuits are nothing to brag about– I make em and we eat em.) You really don’t want to rush into fish anyway. It cooks so quickly that you are better off waiting until everything else is finished. Prep your pan, prep your fish, but then hold off.

Ok, moment of truth…and disaster.

As you can see from the second image, my first skin didn’t flip with the fish. Despite having a good amount of oil in the pan and ensuring it was hot enough, it stuck. So I turned down the heat for the rest of the filets. And although those didn’t stick, they also did not cook at a hot enough temp to get that skin crunchy skin.

In the last pic, you can see the beautiful crisp of skin I got from that first one. I promise you, as I ate it over the sink in my kitchen, it was phenomenal.

So here is the final plate, picture imperfect. Everything tasted good:

One of the things that always makes me laugh during cooking shows is when someone will completely trash their entire dish because it didn’t turn out perfectly.

Of course, I get that these competitive reality shows are highly manufactured dramas. But home chefs know that even when a dish goes wrong everybody still needs to eat. Branzino purchased at $15 a pop cannot simply be replaced.

Most days dinner is about flawed execution, and half-laid plans. Sometimes it turns out great. Sometimes it’s only edible. And sometimes you have to push the limits to redefine edible.

The meal was completely edible– tasty even. It had good basics and top-notch ingredients. It was really good. It just wasn’t perfect.

3 thoughts on “Picture Imperfect. What to do when dinner goes wrong.

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